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new internationalist
issue 218 - April 1991



Shame and thuggery in the UN

A mood of regret, sadness and shame is hanging over the United Nations - manifested mostly in uneasy silence - as the world community contemplates the carnage unleashed in the Middle East in its name.

Second thoughts began to emerge as the United States coalition 'relentlessly' - in the bragging words of its military commanders on the daily newscasts from the Gulf - bombarded the ancient city of Baghdad and its population week after week. Those misgivings emerged even among some of the nations who originally voted for the UN resolution allowing 'all necessary means to effect Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

Revulsion grew against what many countries saw as excessive brutality on the part of the allied forces in killing large numbers of civilians and causing many more to become ill as a result of destroyed water and sewage systems. The continued bombardment of retreating Iraqi forces (the 'turkey shoot') that followed could only increase the feeling of disgust.

While almost unanimously condemning Iraq's takeover of Kuwait, many in the diplomatic community feel that the allied actions in the Gulf - which claimed an estimated 100,000 lives - far exceeded the UN mandate.

As Soviet President Michael Gorbachev said to the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister in Moscow: the UN mandate 'was not to include destroying the country. Iraqi people are not to blame'.

French President Francois Mitterrand expressed reservations. China abstained from voting for Resolution 678 - called by some a 'fig-leaf' cover for private American ambitions in the Gulf.

But China did not exert its veto. In exchange it got a forgetful silence on the Tiananmen Square massacre and a promise of a large loan from the US-dominated World Bank.

Only much later did China's senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, reportedly describe the Gulf war as not a just war but as an example of 'big hegemonists beating up small hegemonists'.

Smaller nations are hesitant to admit their concern in public because defying the US, which currently controls the Council, has been costly for some its members.

Yemen - which, with Cuba, was a dissenting voice in the Security Council - was warned by a senior US diplomat that it could forget about $79 million in US foreign aid if it did not toe the line.

Undaunted by such tactics the Cuban Ambassador Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada pointed out numerous violations of the UN charter in the Security Council's handling of the Gulf war. 'This time will be seen as a chapter of shame in the history of the United Nations,' he said. But he excluded from his condemnation the Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar 'whose hands have been tied by the Security Council'.

What caused the 13 members of the Council who voted for Resolution 678 to do so, despite the doubtful legality of the actions involved?

Many just hoped it would never come to using military force.

Others let pragmatism hold sway. Bush had already amassed nearly half a million troops in the Gulf and advised both Congress and the Security Council that he would go ahead without the stamp of approval of either body, if he thought it necessary.

One diplomat shrugged his shoulders: 'Why get on the wrong side of the President and his men if they are going to do it anyway?'

Another explained that the Security Council thought that in voting for such a measure they could at least retain some say in the course of events. This did not happen. As the Cuban ambassador has charged: 'The Council totally abdicated its responsibilities'.

At a time when the UN looked as if it might play a crucial, democratic role in constructing the new post-Cold War world order, its credibility has been dealt the most devastating blow.


The UN Security Council

. Council has 15 members - 5 permanent. Functions continuously. Decisions binding on all UN members.

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. Presidency changes monthly, rotates in alphabetical order.
. 10 elected members serve for two-year terms.
. Decisions on important questions need 9 Yes votes, but any permanent member can veto decision. Procedural matters also need 9 Yes votes.



Ethical farming

'Our modern agriculture is built on the backs of Third World farmers. We want a farming system which will allow us to make a living without impoverishing the Third World, polluting, or making farm workers redundant.'

These were the words of French dairy farmer Paul Chataignon speaking as a member of CEIPAL (Centre d'Etudes Internationales Paysannes et d'Actions Locales), a farmers' organization in the Rhone-Alpes region of south-east France.

The idea is to inform and educate local farmers about the interdependence of European and Third World agriculture; to research fanning systems which are more self-reliant and less of a burden on developing countries; and to foster links between farmers' groups in Europe and the Third World.

It all started in 1980 when farmer Francois Couzon visited Peru and was shocked to find that local dairy farmers were going out of business due to the dumping of cheap European-produced milk powder supported by EC export subsidies. He knew only too well what the intensification of French milk production was doing to small farmers like himself, who were often forced out of business by having to compete with larger producers.

So CEIPAL, which was founded in 1983, set about trying to find solutions. One possibility is for European farmers to use locally grown cattle-feed as opposed to soya meal - imported mainly from Brazil. Such Soya is usually produced by large land-owners at the expense of small farmers and the environment. Replacing Soya by home-grown feed could help Brazilian small farmers by discouraging export crops, benefit French dairy farmers by reducing their feed bills and aid Third World dairy farmers by limiting European over-production.

But cutting farm subsidies and removing import controls in Europe will not necessarily do the trick. It will make farming more competitive, forcing the smaller farmers off the land. The remaining larger farmers will have to produce more intensively to cover their costs - leading to greater pollution and degradation of the countryside. Dumping of overproduction will continue, so Third World farmers will also suffer.

Solutions which will benefit small farmers the world over are not easy to find but groups like CEIPAL - and its British equivalent, the Farmers World Network - are working on it.

Charles Marriott

CEIPAL, 8 Qual Marechal Joffre, 69002 Lyon, France.
Farmers World Network, Arthur Rank Centre, National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh, Warks. CV8 2LZZ



Cleft-stick for San.

Twenty years ago 1,000 a ahari San (also known as 'Bushmen') were lured out of the bush to swell the ranks of the South African Defence Force and fight their own people. The promise of 700 Rand a month, free food and cheap housing was difficult to resist.

Today, because of the United Nations Peace Plan for withdrawal of South African troops from Namibia the San are castoffs. The South African Government has withdrawn all support for them and their families. As a result they now face inadequate food and water - and a new Namibian Government that can hardly afford to support its own former enemies.

The new Government is trying though. It approached the Lutheran World Federation for help in resettling the San as farmers. Together they drew up an ambitious plan whereby each family could choose a four-hectare plot from a large tract of uncleared, unwatered bush. Resale is forbidden. During a three-year period the San must clear the land and make it fit for farming. The incentive is food support by the United Nations while they do so.

There is one major snag, however. The San - who for thousands of years have lived as nomadic hunters - have shown little interest in becoming farmers. And no-one seems to have asked them what they thought of the plan. The younger ones, brought up on an army base where schooling was optional, are mostly illiterate and without basic farming skills. But they don't want to return to wandering in the bush, either.

The San's new king, 25-year-old Keipie George, finds only luke-warm support for the resettlement scheme amongst his people. He himself is not over-inspired, either. At the official opening of the project he was away delivering a present to his girlfriend.

Project workers are anxious to get the Government to grant basic hunting rights for the San in addition to farming. By allowing only spears and bows and arrows - and banning guns and snares - wildlife numbers will not suffer, they say. Besides, they argue that the San are more conservation-minded than any government.

Ann Reeves



Zombie toffee
Colombians beware of thieves bearing gifts

'Don't accept sweets from strangers', goes the parental warning. But in Colombia adults too take the advice with growing seriousness.

Long-distance buses carry signs warning people not to accept anything from strangers - refreshments, liquor, sweets.

With reason: even the smallest toffee offered by a fellow-traveller could be drugged with scopolamine - or burundanga, as the hypnotic drug is known locally.

In recent years there have been more than 6,000 cases of scopolamine intoxication in the country's largest cities. In most cases people given the drug are reduced to a helpless trance, as if by hypnosis, and their power to resist is obliterated.

In this zombie-like state they can be manipulated at will by criminals and robbed with ease in full view of the public without arousing suspicion.

Early one morning Maria Jimenez, a shop-owner in the western city of Cali, left home in a fashionable middle-class district and was about to enter her car when a man approached her. He handed her a sheet of paper - and that is the last thing Maria remembers.

She came to 24 hours later in a Cali clinic. A passing driver had found her sitting by the side of the road in a state of amnesia. When Maria returned home, she found she had been stripped of everything of value.

On visiting her bank she found that while under the influence of scopolamine given her by the thief she had gone in and withdrawn all the money in her account. The cash had gone. Presumably under hypnosis brought on by the drug, she had meekly handed over the money to the man who had drugged her.

The case remains unsolved. One reason is that Maria cannot remember the appearance of the thief who accompanied her to the bank and instructed her to withdraw her savings. Amnesia is a characteristic of scopolamine intoxication.

How the thief administered the drug to her in the first place is a mystery. Possibly he numbed her with a paralyzing gas spray before giving her the drugged sweet or softdrink. Some thieves jab their victims with a syringe, filled with the anaesthetic.

Scopolamine comes originally from a Andean plant, the borrachero. Criminals now harvest the plant, isolating its alkoloid element. It can be bought on the black market for modest prices.

A favourite haunt for the burundangeros - as these thieves are called - are street corner refreshment stalls, common in Colombian cities. Motorists often stop there to buy drinks - and recover to find both cars and wallets gone. A popular television comedian, Fercho, lost his car that way.

There is a more serious side, however. A major dose of the drug can cause permanent brain damage or death. Even an average dose may be fatal to a person who is elderly, diabetic or has coronary ailments.

The rapid rise in scopolamine cases alarms the police. In the first half of 1990, one Bogota clinic alone treated 438 victims.

The borrachero plant is not exclusive to Colombia, but it seems to be the only country in which scopolamine is used for criminal purposes.

Peter Nares / Gemini

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New Internationalist issue 218 magazine cover This article is from the April 1991 issue of New Internationalist.
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